really do enjoy getting their knickers in a twist when it comes to works of
art. Sure, the usual suspects just can't stop themselves from getting hot under
the collar about anything a little salacious, but its not just the Mail that's
been getting all worked up about Lars von Trier's Antichrist.
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When I mentioned
to friends, colleagues, and the Twitterverse that I was planning to use a day
off work to see the film, I was surprised at the response. Some people rolled
their eyes, some groaned, some regaled me with third-hand stories about friends
of friends walking of the cinema in disgust, fainting or even vomiting
uncontrollably in the aisles. Even Paul Morley (who I've got a huge amount of
time for) went very silly on Newsnight Review, accosting the director at a Cannes press conference.
It used to be
books that got people in a cultural flap Lady Chatterley's Lover and the
Satanic Verses are two that most immediately spring to mind. Then, we all got
culturally lazy, stopped reading books, and got angry about films instead. We
could all just sit back, relax and let get worked up from the comfort of the
local multiplex – Reservoir Dogs, The Blair Witch Project and 9 Songs nearly
saw protests on Middle Enland street
himself, is no stranger to scandal. He's got form, particularly in the guise of
The Idiots, and his whole Dogme 95 collective, which seems deliberately
constructed to outrage. Hence it was no surprise when Antichrist received such
an outpouring of bile in response to its release.
Antichrist tells the story of an unnamed man and woman, played by Willem Defoe
and Charlotte Gainsbourg and their attempts to grieve, and eventually come to
terms with the death of their infant child. Defoe's character, a psychoanalyst,
starts treating Gainsbourg before they retreat to Eden, a log cabin, withdrawn from reality.
That's when things really start going apeshit.
Yes, the film is
uncomfortable to watch (and from someone who sat through Pasolini’s Salo,
that's saying something), and I found my self resisting the urge to look away
on more than one occasion. What a lot of the critics who have so far tackled
Antichrist seem to have missed, is that von Trier hasn't produced a realist
film. An audience who takes a talking fox, a penis spurting blood or a woman
turned witch (they are all there) on face value is missing the point entirely.
If you take the Daily Mail approach and get caught up in the first sight of
gore, the first piece of sexual contact, then Antichrist really isn't for you.
Von Trier has
produced something that we see all too rarely, a masterpiece of poetic cinema –
one that functions as poetically on the visual level as it does on the
narrative. To that end, it reminds me visually of Steve McQueen's recent
Hunger. Time and again, von Trier presents with what seem like visual clues or
motifs to be decoded – acorns, injured animals, a hidden room. These would
actually seem to encourage a psychoanalytic reading of the film, perhaps
encouraged by von Trier's own apparent treatment whilst making the film.
interpretation of the film is, however, thrown into disarray by loads of other
factors that von Trier has thrown into the mix. The film has all the
conventional trappings of a horror movie (a couple trapped in a dark wood, lots
of sexual activity, lots of screaming and bloody gore) as well as having lots
of hints that you feel are in jokes, on film buff-only references (the shooting
of the much talked-about female circumcision can only be a nod to Bunuel's eye slashing scene in Un
In short, the
film is an artistic masterpiece, one that can't be 'read' in any conventional
sense of the word, one that will continually disappoint and offend anyone that
tries to look for a straightforward meaning. May Lars von Trier long continue
to wind up the Daily Mail. If you don’t like that, go and see the Bourne